Mental Health Comorbidity

What is Comorbidity?

Comorbidity typically refers to a condition "existing simultaneously with and usually independently of another medical condition". This can be any combination of illnesses or conditions, whether mental, physical, or perceived, that almost always make the patient’s lives more challenging and worsen their life quality.

Why is it important to be educated about it?

Comorbidity is not only associated with worse health outcomes, but typically suggests more complex clinical management, and increased healthcare costs. It creates complications to living that are not confined to its individual disorders, or conditions, and can create even more problems within the person. For example, having high blood pressure AND an anxiety disorder actually worsens each disorder and even puts the patient at risk for heart attacks, panic attacks/episodes. People with major depressive disorder and any other psychiatric illness have twice as high likelihood of suicide attempts.

How can comorbidity be treated?

Because comorbidity and multimorbidity come in an infinite variety of combinations, there is no ‘one’ way to treat it best. Typically, it depends on the complexity of the person at hand, and even people with the exact same disorders can have vastly different reactions to them. Here are some of the best proven ways to treat comorbidity:

  • Medication

Substance abuse is often considered to be the most frequent comorbid disorder, and there are medications that inhibit the usage of stimulant drugs (opiates, alcohol, nicotine) while also treating common comorbid illnesses like anxiety or mood spectrum disorders with the active chemical bupropion (ex. commerical drugs Zyban or Wellbutrin). However, the complexity of the patient at hand makes using drugs very dangerous and not the #1 suggested treatment for that reason. More research is needed to test effectiveness of these drugs geared for more than one condition at the same time, and even more so, spreading into even more complicated comorbid disorders.

  • Behavioral Therapy

Focusing on and challenging the specific behaviors attributed to comorbid mental illness has also had some large success in its treatment. This comes in what is commonly called “cognitive-behavioral therapy” or CBT. “Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) is a type of psychotherapeutic treatment that helps patients understand the thoughts and feelings that influence behaviors. CBT is commonly used to treat a wide range of disorders including phobias, addiction, depression and anxiety… [by] learning how to identify and change destructive or disturbing thought patterns that have a negative influence on behavior.”




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